Some weeks ago, a story broke about Google recording data about WiFi networks when they were wandering around taking family snapshots with their now infamous fleet of ‘Streetview’ cars. At the time, Google claimed that the information gathered was ‘accidental’ – that rang a few bells with quite a few techies. It’s alike me wandering the streets of Sheffield taking photographs and at the same time ‘accidentally’ running war dialling software so that I can log any WiFi activity in the area. There’s no ‘accidental’ link between digital imaging and WiFi networks, so what the heck were Google up to?
I intended to blog at the time, but life decided to intervene and so I didn’t do the post…which is a shame because of what’s reported here. Google have mapped every WiFi network that was detectable on the routes taken by their StreetView cars. In other words, if your house or office was photographed by Google, they also grabbed bits of data about your WiFi network, if you have one – MAC address, SSID, Channel in use. OK, it may seem that this is pretty much ‘small fry’ in terms of data and privacy, but let’s just take a wider look.
- First of all, Google have breached Data Protection Legislation in virtually every country in which they’ve done this; you’re not supposed to gather information up willy-nilly in this manner.
- Secondly, Google have shows the same sort of respect (or lack of same) for privacy that Facebook have been accused of. In fact, I’d argue that Google’s crimes against privacy are probably worse than Facebook. With Facebook I had a choice to use their site to share my data. Google just whizz along, photograph my property and grab my data whether I like it or not.
- Gathering and storing this data isn’t a by-product of any photographic process; the equipment and process to record and store this data must have been installed deliberatley in the Google Streetview vehicles. Now, no-one does this sort of thing for laughs – so we have to assume that Google carried out an action that cost money, was against Data protection legislation and that they might have suspected would upset people for a particular reason.
- And they actually patented the techniques / technology used. The last one’s a bit of a give away….
What could that reason be?
That, my friends, is the 64 dollar question. Google have ended up with the most comprehensive map of WiFi coverage in the UK that’s ever been compiled. Now, much of that capacity isn’t publicly accessible – i.e. it belongs to folks like me and thee – but it did start me thinking about what a gung-ho, conquer the universe by next Thursday company like Google might do.
- Gathering data on the different types of router / network in use in domestic and business environments to sell to marketing companies working for hardware manufacturers?
- Spotting ‘dark areas’ in towns where there is no public WiFi – where Google could fill a need, perhaps?
- Gathering information as to WiFi networks in towns that Google might approach to sell advertising to?
- Testing their technology – a dry run to see what they could get, the attitude of the relavant authorities, etc.?
- Testing the possibilities for WiFi network usage by vehicles?
- Checking WiFi security settings on the behalf of ‘other oragnisations’ to see how much effort someone would need to carry out a comprehensive mobile monitoring exercise for WiFi? A little like the TV Detector vans?
Anyone else got any bright ideas?